Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
Ride the world’s largest model railway in Hamburg, Germany—without leaving your computer chair.
The biggest issue with Das Minatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model railway, is that the hyperreal metropolis is way too tiny for human riders. Plus, anyone who wants to gaze upon the sprawling replica has to travel to Hamburg, Germany, where it lives.
But Google to the rescue! The tech giant’s latest whimsical Google Maps project takes viewers inside the 215,000-resident city, which boasts a picturesque, Austrian-style village, a skiing lodge, a high-density downtown area, a working airport, and approximately 42,650 feet of track.
Das Minatur Wunderland is the brainchild of twin brothers Frederik and Gerrit Braun, who took out a loan of 2 million German marks in 2000 to create their masterpiece. (At the time, that would have been more than $1 million in U.S. dollars.) Today, the model takes up 14,000 square feet, with plans to expand to nearly 25,000 square feet by 2020. The whole thing is run by 46 computers and includes 1,270 signals, 3,050 switches, 8,850 cars, and 228,000 trees. It took a team of 230 people 580,000 hours to build.
To capture the model in all its glory, Google worked with a German company called Ubilabs to build a lil’Google car, which rode the mini rails, the mini streets, and the mini runways to reproduce the incredibly detailed model in 360-degree views.
And oh, the surprises you will find in Das Minatur Wunderland. There’s a concrete plant! A town parade! A model of the Grand Canyon! There are tiny climbers scaling a tiny Matterhorn as tiny musicians play tiny alphorns nearby. Explore for yourself here.